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command prompt

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A command prompt is the input field in a text-based user interface screen for an operating system or program. A prompt, in this context, is something designed to elicit an action. The command prompt consists of a brief text string followed by a blinking cursor, which is where the user types commands.

Command line interfaces (CLI) and prompts were the standard interface for computers from the early days into the 1980s. MS-DOS systems and other early consumer market computers were CLI-based. Current Windows systems offer the CLI for administrative tasks. The CLI is still an essential part of Linux use.

The command prompt itself is actually an executable CLI program, cmd.exe. At the command prompt, the user types a statement including a base batch file or a command name and any arguments to specify running conditions, logging and so on for the program.

Command prompt interfaces can be powerful and succinct and some tools that aren’t available through the GUI can be accessed through it. They also offer superior automation through scripting, but may present a steep learning curve to master knowledge of commands.

See an introductory tutorial on using the command prompt:

This was last updated in August 2016

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